HIV/AIDS Underreported on Evening Cable News

MMFA_logo_vectorIn 2013 and the first quarter of 2014, weekday evening cable news shows on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC underreported major stories on HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and research, according to an analysis by Media Matters.

In 2013, CNN had 11 mentions, with MSNBC and Fox News each having four mentions. In the first quarter of 2014, CNN and MSNBC each had one mention, with Fox News having no mentions.

Shows included in the analysis: The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360, Piers Morgan Tonight, CNN Tonight, The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, On The Record with Greta Van Susteren, The O’Reilly Factor, The Kelly File, Hannity, The Ed Show, Politics Nation, Hardball with Chris Matthews, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show and The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.  

News transcripts between January 1, 2013, and March 31, 2014, were searched on Nexis. Segments on HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, research and history were included. Crime stories involving HIV/AIDS were excluded, as well as passing mentions and reruns.

To read the analysis, click here.

THC in Pot Affects Monkey SIV; Half-Baked HIV Reports Follow

By Benjamin Ryan (Editor-at-Large, POZ)

marijuanaA study showing that a component of marijuana modulates the disease progression of the simian version of HIV in the guts of monkeys has led to a rash of hyperbolic and highly inaccurate reporting of the research in the popular press. Publishing their findings in AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses, investigators from Louisiana State University (LSU) and the Tulane Primate Center gave twice-daily injections of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the main psychoactive element of marijuana and one of more than 60 cannabinoids in the drug) to four rhesus macaque monkeys and gave a placebo to another four monkeys during a 17-month period. Then they infected the primates with SIV, HIV’s simian cousin.

Analyzing the differences in duodenal, or gut, tissue between the two groups of monkeys above five months after they were infected with SIV, the investigators found that the THC-treated macaques had a higher level of CD8 central memory T cells and a higher level of a specific kind of CD4 cells that scientists believe may be summoned to restore CD4s killed by the virus, as well as an increase in the expression of certain cytokines that indicate a less inflammatory state.

Ultimately, the findings identify potential mechanisms that THC affects and that can in turn alter the course of SIV disease.

To read the reports in various online new sources, however, much greater scientific leaps had been made.

The study’s lead author, Patricia Molina, MD, PhD, a professor at the LSU Health Sciences Center, New Orleans, expressed in a email to POZ her “frustration with the liberal, inaccurate, and wrong approach that the journalists have taken to interpreting our results.”

The Daily Beast ran a headline that touted, “Weed Could Block H.I.V.’s Spread. No, Seriously.” And yet, as the article itself pointed out, the study was not conducted on marijuana, but on one of its ingredients. Furthermore, the study did not cover, nor did it make any projections about, THC’s ability to impede, much less outright block, the spread of HIV from person to person. ThinkProgress, meanwhile, put it rather more equivocally, if still inaccurately: “Marijuana May Help Stop The Spread of HIV.” The Guardian Liberty Voice went the furthest, with its headline: “HIV Infections Cured With Cannabis a Real Possibility.” The study was not concerned with a potential cure, nor even a systemic examination of THC’s effects on SIV throughout the monkeys’ bodies, but only analyzed the effects of the drug in the gut region.

To read these three particular reports (there are others) in chronological order, it would appear that Liberty Voice and ThinkProgress each essentially copied the reporting, much of it erroneous, in The Daily Beast. ThinkProgress even lifted a clause of telling similarity out of The Daily Beast, which wrote: “Mirroring other studies that link marijuana to HIV, the study illustrates…” ThinkProgress parroted, “This isn’t the first study to report a correlation between cannabis and HIV.” The study did not “link marijuana to HIV.” Rather, it examined a link between THC (which is a cannabinoid, not cannabis itself) treatment and changes in HIV disease progression—an important distinction. Previous studies have looked at whether medical marijuana helped battle symptoms such as nausea, pain and appetite loss among people with HIV.

All three stories mistakenly reported that the macaques were already SIV positive when they received the 17 months of THC, although in fact the primates were not infected until after the end of the THC treatment.

Perhaps most outlandishly, The Daily Beast stated, “In 2011 alone, 636,048 people died from AIDS.” That figure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, represents the total number of people throughout the entire HIV epidemic in the United States who have received an AIDS diagnosis and who have since died. An estimated 15,529 people with an AIDS diagnosis died in 2010.

In addition, both The Daily Beast and Liberty Voice mistakenly called SIV “RIV.” And Liberty Voice reported that “hundreds of researchers have reported that THC was able to pierce the RIV virus in monkeys.” There were not hundreds of researchers working on this paper, nor did they discover that THC pierced “RIV.” Additionally, “RIV virus” is redundant, since the “V” stands for “virus.” (ThinkProgress also referred to the “HIV virus.”)

Each of the news reports did drive home an important consideration: The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug—the same as heroin and LSD—which hinders research into the potential benefits of THC and pot.

Other inaccurate reports can be found in The Huffington Post, High Times, The Fix and Queerty.

To read a press release on the study, click here.

To read the study, click here.

To read the Daily Beast story, click here.

To read the ThinkProgress story, click here.

To read the Liberty Voice story, click here.

This article was originally published on POZ.com.

Joseph Beam

joseph_beamBorn: 1954
Died: 1988

“The bottom line is this: We are black men who are proudly gay. What we offer is our lives, our loves, our visions … We are coming home with our heads held up high.”
-Joseph Beam

Joseph Beam is an official honoree today for LGBT History Month 2013, which this year has several HIV-positive honorees.

Joseph Beam was a gay activist and author who worked to foster the acceptance of LGBTs in the African-American community.

Beam became a leader in the black gay community in the early 1980s, writing news articles, essays, poetry and short stories for publications such as The Advocate, Body Politic, Gay Community News and the New York Native, relating the gay experience with the U.S. civil rights movement. In 1984, the Lesbian and Gay Press Association awarded Beam for his outstanding achievement as a minority journalist.

In 1986, he edited and published In the Life, an anthology of work written by largely unknown black gay writers, in response to his frustration over the absence of African American voices in LGBT literature. The anthology is widely regarded as the first of its kind.

Beam was also the founding editor of the national magazine Black/Out, served on the board of directors of the National Coalition of Black Lesbian and Gays, and was a contributing editor for the magazine Blacklight. He also worked as a consultant for the Gay and Lesbian Task Force of the American Friends Service Committee.

In 1988, Joseph Beam died of AIDS-related complications just three days shy of his 34th birthday. In 1991, Beam’s mother and friend published a second anthology of black gay men’s literature, titled Brother to Brother, which Beam was working on at the time of his death.

Go to lgbthistorymonth.com for more information about Beam and the other honorees.

TV Stations Miss Real Story Behind HIV-Positive Inmate

By James Miller (Media Critic, WFPL)

prisonIn the early days of the AIDS epidemic, most people had no idea how AIDS was transmitted. Even as late as 1999, many people believed that they could get AIDS from public toilets or sharing drinking glasses with an HIV-positive person. These erroneous beliefs were at least partially attributable to homophobia, but misinformation from irresponsible news reporting was likely also to blame.

One would think that in 2013 this type of reporting would be long gone, but three Louisville, Kentucky, TV stations are uncritically repeating assertions from authorities about the dangers of HIV and urine.

WHAS, WLKY, and WDRB all reported essentially the same story which appears to be based on a single arrest report: an HIV-positive inmate at Louisville Metro Corrections allegedly threw a cup of his own urine onto a corrections officer.

The corrections department decided to destroy the officer’s clothing and send the officer to a local hospital for “treatment and decontamination” despite the fact that HIV cannot be transmitted through urine. So the inmate’s HIV status is entirely irrelevant, unless some enterprising reporter decides to write a story about the fact that the Department of Corrections is still treating urine from an HIV-positive prisoner as if it was a deadly infectious substance.

According to earlier reports, the DOC even charged this same inmate with attempted murder for exactly the same act back in February, even though there is no risk of catching HIV from urine. It’s like charging someone with attempted murder for throwing a glass of water on somebody else.

Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, called these stories “gravely irresponsible reporting” and agreed that “the real story is the inappropriate way in which Metro Corrections handled this incident.” He also speculated that Metro Louisville’s HIV Prevention Services “would be happy to have a conversation with Metro Corrections and give them some education on this issue.”

As of Thursday, July 25, the story was one of the most popular on WHAS.com. I’m sure overblown stories like this are great for clicks and shares, but the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s Principles of Journalism specifically caution against “inflating events for sensation.” Perhaps next time, reporters will dig a little deeper past the press releases and arrest reports and look for the larger story.


James Miller is WFPL’s media critic and a journalism teacher at duPont Manual High School in Louisville, Kentucky. This article was originally published on WFPL.org.

 

Transparency, HIV Stigma And Accountability

By Todd A. Heywood (Senior Reporter, The American Independent)

hivLANSING - The conversation went something like this:

“You mean you would report my HIV status?” the man asked.

“If it was relevant to the story, yes, yes I would,” I told him.

The man stared at me in disbelief. “You can’t do that. I don’t want anyone to know I am HIV positive,” he said. Yet, he was appointed to a public body to represent people living with HIV in determining how the state would spend federal HIV dollars in addressing the epidemic in Michigan.

I was attending the Michigan HIV/AIDS Council meeting on March 14, and at issue was a required confidentiality agreement. The agreement had to be signed to attend the public meeting of a public body – a big no-no under Michigan’s Open Meetings Act.

But the principle of confidentiality in relation to disclosing a person’s HIV status is, in fact, an important part of addressing HIV in the state. So this incident led me, in conversation with my editors at The American Independent and Between The Lines, to ask “shouldn’t we be transparent about how we determine to disclose or not disclose the name of a person living with HIV?” And, of course, we should.

Disclosure of an HIV status is a serious concern with implications going beyond the instant moment and can impact employment, relationships and civil rights. I know, because I am living with HIV. Many activists say that one incredibly important tool in fighting stigma and discrimination is for those living with HIV to be out about their status. However, that decision has to be – except in very rare, narrowly defined situations – a personal decision.

So how do we as news agencies go about reporting a person’s HIV status in a news story?

It is essential to understand that generally, reporting on someone’s HIV status will be predicated on their permission. In many instances, if someone’s status is important to the story, but disclosure could negatively impact that person, I will offer anonymity to the person. That decision is reached after discussions with both the subject, editors and sometimes with ethics experts.

As an ethical rule, we will not identify, by name, individuals charged under various HIV disclosure, exposure and transmission laws. Why?

First, as the Poynter Institute has told us in phone interviews, it is unethical to identify the alleged perpetrator and not the alleged victim in a case that is predicated on an act, usually sexual, that is consensual. Either both are named or neither will be named. It’s that simple.

Secondly, in multiple instances, police have charged a suspect under various state laws, naming that person as HIV-positive. But further review finds that the person is, in fact, not living with HIV. That disclosure, once made, cannot be taken back in this world of online permanence, and can lead to significant negative impacts on a person who is presumed to be living with HIV. It’s unfair, it’s unethical and we won’t do that.

Thirdly, in these cases, if the accused is willing to talk to us on the record and disclose his or her status, with his or her name attached, we will report that person’s name. We have in the past reported the stories of those living with HIV who admit to breaking a state disclosure law, but we have not identified them. Why? Because the story they have to tell about stigma and how it impacts their thinking in relation to disclosure is more important than the identity of the person – and identifying the person could lead to them facing criminal charges.

The media is not, and never should be, an arm of the police. It is not our job to help police embark on witch hunts to find additional alleged victims of HIV-specific crimes. The police can do that all on their own with a bevy of legal powers at their discretion.

Ultimately, we embark on very difficult conversations every day about when, if and how to identify those living with HIV, or those alleged to be living with HIV. We very carefully weigh the public’s right to know with the privacy of the person living with HIV. It is not an easy balancing act to perform, but it is essential to reporting about HIV in the United States and assuring our sources that we respect and value their privacy. These are just examples of the process we undergo as we evaluate reporting, and how we determine who to identify and when. We believe we regularly strike a solid balance between those conflicts of privacy and public policy, and drive for transparency on the public policy issue, not the details of whether or not a person is living with HIV.

This article was originally published on Between the Lines.